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Gadget Hall of Fame: Atari Lynx

The Game Boy wasn't the only handheld games console to make landfall in 1989...

While we at Stuff are generally obsessed with the gadgets of the present and the near future, at times it pays to stop and look back on the triumphant tech of the past. Yes, it’s once again time to take up the crowbar of nostalgia and lever the lock off the Gadget Hall of Fame.

This time, we’re hauling out one of the world’s first handheld games consoles: a big cat in a (then) small pond. We’re talking, of course, about the Atari Lynx.

Main image credit: Evan-Amos – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Atari Lynx story

It was a wonder of the portable gaming world. The first colour handheld console, the Lynx was launched in 1989, just after the Game Boy. Its specs trounced Nintendo’s offering: it had a backlit 3.5in screen, reversible controls for left-handers, 64KB of RAM, inter-machine networking and 16-bit hardware that scaled sprites for pseudo-3D effects – a first on any console. But it was huge, and even the smaller, lighter Lynx II (below) was about the size of a house brick.

Why should you want one now? Well, Sega’s Game Gear had more games, but the Lynx had the cachet – and its 18-player link-up potential made a mockery of the Game Boy’s measly one-on-one Tetris matches. As it was an Atari product, it benefitted from decent versions of their best coin-ops of the era such as Paperboy and Stun Runner, and California Games as it was developed by sports specialist Epyx. Now it’s a guaranteed conversaton starter. Even if the conversion usually starts with “What the hell is that?”

How to annoy your bosses

The Lynx’s creators had also worked on the Commodore Amiga‘s design team. Much to Atari’s annoyance, they continued to use Amigas for the Lynx’s software development – and not Atari STs.

So let’s say you’ve decided to head to eBay and buy one. What should you watch out for?

For a start, you’ll need plenty of batteries – the Lynx gobbles six AAs in a measly four hours (five hours for the Lynx II), though there was an AC adaptor. If you want to carry it around, you’ll need massive pockets, too. Although just a shade under 100 games were released for the Lynx, a few independent developers such as Duranik are still working on new titles, and game ROMs are available for computer-based emulators – try AtariAge.

Buy an Atari Lynx on eBay.

Also in 1989…

Students protest in Tiananmen Square, Seinfeld premieres on TV, Extreme cut their first album… and all this arrived:

Music: Soul II Soul: Club Classics Vol 1

Fighting back against endless US- based new jack swing clones, Soul II Soul mined a rich seam of influences and produced this seminal r’n’b effort, which features the classic tracks "Back to Life" and "Keep on Movin’".

Gadget: Nintendo Game Boy

Super Mario Land, Mario Golf and Tennis were all corkers, Tetris was the killer app – it sold 33 million units when it was bundled with Nintendo’s monochrome portable gamer.

Film: Batman

No THWACK! or SPANGGGG! for Tim Burton as he pits Michael Keaton’s brooding Dark Knight against Jack Nicholson’s crazy, homicidal Joker in a litter-strewn, rain-soaked Gotham city. And that Batmobile’s still the coolest.